Lots of leaders believe that their sales force (and marketers, product developers, etc.) know their buyers. I disagree. Well, they may know their names and titles and a bit more. But let’s get real. Do the majority of your salespeople really understand how their buyers actually perceive value in what your company provides?
Look, I love the sales profession and am committed to keeping it relevant in the new economy. So I am not bashing Sales. But "Houston, we have a problem" with selling, because too many of our sellers don't understand how buyers really calculate value.
What’s to Understand?
As a sales manager, sales leader, and business coach prior to joining Forrester, I’ve had thousands of opportunities to observe professional B2B salespeople from many companies and industries in meetings with prospective customers and clients. I’ve reviewed countless business proposals and presentations before they were put in front of IT and executive buyers. This experience has informed me that far too many (and I mean FAR too many!) salespeople lack understanding of the basis for which a prospective customer is really making a decision. Let's not point fingers. Let's just help salespeople figure this out.
Think about your own buying experiences. Out of all of the salespeople who you’ve ever interacted with, how many can you think of who asked the right questions to really truly understood what you were trying to accomplish and what you and your company were most concerned about (other than price)? For me, just a small percentage of salespeople stand out in my mind. And they do stand out, even after many years. How about you?
Like many other sales leaders, the sense that tectonic shifts in the dynamics between buyers and salespeople are happening has been palpable to me for a number of years. Researching these changes is why I joined Forrester just weeks before this year’s Forrester Research Sales Enablement Forum. At the Forum, I had a number of surprise learnings or “aha moments” gained from colleagues and members of our Sales Enablement Council who are learning in real time as sales enablement practitioners.
A Cross-Organizational System Issue
The seemingly endless search for the right “solution” to improve sales performance feels like a continuous plodding pilgrimage for many sales leaders. What I learned at the Forrester Sales Enablement Forum, and have experienced with new illumination since, is why the silver bullet solutions (i.e., tools, programs, training, materials, promotions, technology) that leaders in sales, sales operations, HR, and sales training invest in really ever meet our expectations for delivering better overall top-line performance.
There is true chaos that exists in the selling systems of most companies. Various business functions scurry to support the effort of increasing sales. My core learning from the Forum was that we have to ask whether we even have a selling system. My realization in working with clients over the past five months is that most companies “enable” their sales forces through dis-integrated, costly, inefficient, and ineffective multifunction (as opposed to cross-functional) silos of investments that have a poor performance improvement yield.
Peter O'Neill here. Several people have asked me to re-post this blog from a few years ago. Here it is .....
It is January, 2015, and technology sales reps Reg, Xerxes, Francis, and Loretta have been to the movies to watch a rerun of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, probably one of the best film comedies of any time. At dinner afterward, they are reliving the scene where the commandos discuss “what did the Romans ever do for us” when one of their marketing colleagues stops by to say hello. After the marketing manager leaves, they continue their discussion.
Now there’s another point. Those people in marketing. What have they ever done for us?!
Peter O’Neill here with some comments about being truly effective at content marketing. Did you know that B2B buyers say that 70% of the content they read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales? At Forrester, we like to talk about the new interaction model of need-match-engage, where the buyers now initiate the interaction and spend a major part of their buyer journey doing their own research before calling in potential suppliers.
Content marketing has therefore become much more than product and solutions collateral, campaigns, mailings, and fulfillment. B2B marketers have to be great at being found by buyers in their early research phase (the phases we call discover and explore). In a way, successful marketers will “fool” their buyers into consuming their thought-leadership and educational content in stages 1 through 5 — while hardly realizing its source. And the most successful marketers will learn how to mix their brand "scent" into that content without appearing to be selling — to the extent that buyers will count it as part of their 70%.
B2B marketing leaders are striving to position their companies as “thought leaders.” And why not? If you do not have a truly disruptive technology, product, service or idea (in which case you actually are a thought leader) being seen as a thought leader gives your company strategic differentiation. It helps you stand-out in the cacophony of messages that your customers must sift through to find you. Given the complexities that B2B buyers face when making decisions for sophisticated solutions, your thought leadership might just be the most important part of your marketing program. It becomes part of your brand value. It converts you from a commodity supplier into a trusted advisor who can lead the customer to achievement of their vision.
Your thought leadership only matters if people read it, see it, or hear it.
Now here is some more “earned media” for Cisco. As usual, full disclosure rules require me (Peter O’Neill here) to note that Cisco invited me to its latest Partner Velocity conference in Cannes last week. As they told, the agenda was truly in my sweet zone of research: the challenges of B2B marketing including channel marketing. This annual worldwide conference was held in Las Vegas last year but the last one I had attended was the previous European event two years ago in Barcelona. As I wrote then, I continue to be truly excited by what I saw and heard at the event.
Cisco is the ONLY tech vendor that holds an event of this strength exclusively for marketers – the marketers who work for its business partners. I’ve been on vendor/partner marketing advisory councils but this one was a marketing training event and which IT vendor besides Cisco thinks it is good enough at its own marketing to be able to hold such an event for others? I had some really great conversations with marketers across the globe – I collected business cards from South Africa, Nigeria, Dubai, Lithuania, plus across Europe and North America. It is interesting to hear that marketing has similar issues (getting enough executive support, proving its value, lack of resources) all over the world.
Two things I noted especially at this year’s event:
This week, Colt launched its Ceano cloud services for SMBs with a particular focus on the reseller channel that actually services these businesses. As this announcement combines the business strategy of a telco provider with an innovative channel strategy, Forrester analysts Dan Bieler and Peter O’Neill have again combined (as in their previous blog on Cisco) to discuss their impressions:
Peter O’Neill here and welcome to another “Letter from Germany” post where I highlight something important for you about B2B marketing in Germany. Last week I attended the first Lead Management Summit in Munich, an event organized by the business media publisher Vogel Business Media together with DemandGen AG, the European arm of that worldwide consulting group. More than 150 attendees were treated to an agenda jam-packed full of user experience stories enriched by each speaker with their own set of useful anecdotes. Two highlights for me were:
Thomas Dueker, AEB GmbH(supply chain logistics software vendor). In discussing how he optimized their lead management process, Thomas also said he didn’t like to use the word “lead” too much. He remarked that he sees it as “too American, too much about selling, too quickly.” Remember my note in a previous blog about differing expectations in European marketers? His system identifies “marketable and relevant contacts” and feeds them “quality content with minimum sales messaging.”
I’ve been having a lot of conversations, recently, about sales and marketing alignment. (Well, honestly, who working in B2B marketing hasn’t?) In Forrester’s most recent Marketing Organization and Investment Survey, we asked the respondents (522 B2B marketing execs from companies with more than 100 employees) about the quality of collaboration between sales and marketing. Fifty-seven percent of marketing execs reported weak or mixed collaboration with sales when "defining lead qualification criteria" and "administering leads and lead pipelines." Those numbers underscore the much-storied rift between marketing and our colleagues in sales.
For a while I have been saying that a managed lead-to-revenue process will catalyze a new collaborative relationship between sales and marketing. It makes sense to the point of being incandescently obvious; calibrating sales and marketing around a shared revenue goal is the basis for true alignment. But, until there is proof, it’s a hypothesis. And, now there’s proof.
In our study, we found that companies who have implemented a marketing automation solution (a proxy for a more managed process) reported significantly higher levels of collaboration between sales and marketing, across a number of different dimensions.
I (writes Peter O'Neill) have just published the Organization report for our lead-to-revenue playbook. My colleague Lori Wizdo is writing most of the 12 reports that form this Forrester playbook, but I get to write a few and we are both excited that Laura Ramos, now back at Forrester, will contribute the Business Case report.
In my report, “The Skills And Structures For L2R Success,” I have avoided suggesting a standard org chart for L2R process management because our client inquiries on this topic show that one size definitely does not fit all. Instead, I have focused on how to organize a team to design and manage a buyer-centric L2RM process. And I discuss the many new job titles, roles, and responsibilities that are now appearing in marketing organizations as more and more enterprises adopt an L2R strategy. I also consider the important interfaces to many other departments that are needed to ensure L2RM success.